NHS England has launched a drive to remind people not to put off going to see a doctor if they have possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
Although November saw record numbers of people coming forward for cancer checks, according to the latest NHS England figures, health service chiefs are still concerned that people are delaying seeking treatment when they shouldn’t because of the pandemic.
A total of 246,000 people were checked for cancer in November – three times as many as compared to the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020, when people were reluctant to come forward, said NHS England.
In the early stages of the pandemic, half (49%) of people said they would delay coming forward because they didn’t want to burden the health service or because they were worried about catching Covid-19 in hospital.
The charity Macmillan Cancer Support has estimated there have been nearly 50,000 fewer cancer diagnoses across the UK since the start of the pandemic.
Cancer and the workplace
While occupational health practitioners, clearly, are not cancer specialists, they are nevertheless well-placed to identify possible ‘red flag’ signs in an employee, and recommend they go and see their GP to be checked out.
Moreover, the earlier someone is diagnosed and treated for cancer the greater the likelihood of recovery and being able to return to work, a rehabilitation process where OH can play a key role.
In a blog post, Anthony Cunliffe, national GP advisor lead at Macmillan, said he remained “particularly concerned about the significant reduction in people being diagnosed with cancer since the pandemic started”.
Compared to previous years, this reduction meant it was likely there were many people with undiagnosed cancers who had not yet presented to their GP.
“We don’t know how many of these people may still not have presented to a healthcare practitioner, perhaps due to worrying about the risk of Covid-19 or not wanting to burden a struggling health system,” he said.
“We also don’t know how many patients had contact with primary or emergency care. With changes to ways of working and pressure on the health system, these cases haven’t yet been investigated appropriately,” Cunliffe added.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England national clinical director for cancer, said: “When coronavirus first emerged, we saw patient numbers drop dramatically as people stayed away because of fear of the virus, or because they didn’t want to burden the NHS, despite experiencing cancer symptoms – but it’s vital people continue to come forward.
“The NHS continued cancer care throughout the pandemic and that remains the same. So, if you have a sign or symptom, such as a persistent cough that is not Covid, or prolonged discomfort in the abdomen, please come forward – we are open and ready to see and treat you. Coming forward and getting checked out could save your life,” he added.